Baby Led Weaning: The Ultimate Parent’s guide

If you’ve made it here I hope you’ve decided you want to give baby led weaning a try. Are you still asking yourself what is baby led weaning? Then start in this post about the difference between traditional vs. baby led weaning. If you know the basic concept and are ready to find out how to do baby led weaning then you are in the right place!

Disclaimer: Nothing in this or subsequent posts should be misconstrued as medical advice. This is simply what I have learned through my own research and experience doing baby led weaning. Always consult with your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s abilities or medical issues that may make this approach inappropriate.

Baby Led Weaning is not right for every mom or every child. (Be aware that not all doctors are knowledgeable about baby led weaning. If your doctor is unfamiliar or not open to discussing the option you may want to look for a new doctor.)

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Is my Baby Ready to start baby led weaning?

As moms, especially first time moms, introducing solids can be an exciting time. However, if you want to do baby led weaning you may have to wait a while. Your child may not be ready at exactly 6 months. You DO NOT have to introduce solids to your child at 6 months.

Your doctor will likely bring it up somewhere between 4-6 months but you do not have to start until you and your child are ready. Your child can do just fine on breastmilk or formula alone past the 6 month mark. So how do you know if your child is ready to start? Your child needs to have all of these signs of readiness BEFORE you begin introducing solids.

Baby Led Weaning signs of readiness

  • Ability to SIT UNASSISTED for at least 30 seconds. This is very important to avoid choking. This is one of the big ones that may hold you back from starting at 6 months but it’s very important that they achieve this milestone before you introduce solids the way it’s done in baby led weaning.
  • An INTEREST IN FOOD. If your baby is a boob or bottle monster they may not be interested in food at 6 months. If they are not interested in food then I recommend you wait. You are likely going to simply be wasting food if you introduce it to them before they take an interest.
  • Beginnings of the PINCHER GRASP. Your child doesn’t need to be a pro at the pincher grasp just yet. But the beginnings need to be there. Your child needs to be able to get food from their table/tray to their mouth or they’re only going to get frustrated.
  • LOSS OF THE TONGUE THRUST REFLEX. This is essential as this reflex must be gone so they can begin to learn to properly manipulate food with their mouth and learn to chew.

We included our daughter in dinner time from a young age. It really helped us to be able to actually sit at our table, together, without her screaming her head off. She felt included and also was able to observe us eating from a very young age.

Once she had fairly good head control we placed her in a space saver high chair that has several recline levels. With it laid back as much as possible she could comfortably hang out there while we ate.

Gagging vs. Choking

By far the scariest part of doing baby led weaning is the fear that your child may choke. It’s probably the biggest thing that keeps parents from doing it.

As parents, much of our time is devoted to picking up things our child could possibly choke on or chasing toddlers down to find out what’s in their mouth…and now I’m suggesting that you give your young child pieces of solid food to chew on! Know that choking is possible whether you start with purees or table food.

I highly suggest you and anyone who will be caring for your child on a regular basis take an infant CPR class so you know what to do in case your child does choke. Also, know that choking is rare and there are simple things you can do to reduce the risks. We’ll talk more about these in the Do’s and Don’ts section below.

It’s important to know the difference between gagging and choking before you begin baby led weaning. I took a class when my child was little and the teacher suggested looking up a video of a baby gagging on YouTube. It will still be scary if it happens to your child but it’s easier to see it happen to a child you don’t know first.

We were blessed as we never had a major gagging incident and only a couple minor ones.  I also definitely take a more nervous mama approach to solids…my daughter may be getting her grapes and blueberries cut in pieces until middle school!

Gagging doesn’t generally happen a lot if your baby is ready for solids. If your baby is uninterested or struggling then take a step back and try again in a few weeks.

Do’s and Don’ts for baby led weaning

baby led weaning dos and don'ts

DO Eat with your child. One of the main advantages of baby led weaning is that the baby eats what you eat so there isn’t a bunch of separate prep work. Hard liners will say baby has to eat what you are eating. I say do it within reason. If you are having something completely unsuitable then make something separate for baby. I like to have cereal for breakfast which has more sugar than I want my daughter to have and isn’t suitable for early stages of baby led weaning anyway. So if I eat cereal she may get a pear, yogurt, or scrambled egg instead.

DO Offer breastmilk or formula first. It’s generally suggested they nurse or have their bottle about 30 minutes before being offered solids. Breastmilk or formula should still be a baby’s main source of nutrition until they are closer to one year old.

DO Take an infant CPR class so you are prepared in case your child chokes on food or any other object they may decide to put in their mouth.

DO Offer your child a variety of foods. You want them to explore lots of tastes and textures. Make sure you even give them stuff that you yourself don’t like!

DO Cut your child’s food in the appropriate size. If you are just starting out this means long sticks about the size of your index finger and soft enough to squish by pinching between two fingers.

DO Know your child’s capabilities. Every child is different. Only you know for sure what your child is capable of. Go at their speed. There’s no need to rush. If you have developmental concerns be sure to bring them up with your doctor.

DON’T Leave your child unattended while they are eating. Choking can happen quickly and your child should be closely supervised while they are eating, especially in the early days. If you must walk away take the food off their tray first.

DON’T Offer Honey or items with honey in them (like honey nut cheerios) under the age of 1. There is a risk of them getting infant botulism, even if the honey has been cooked it’s not safe to give to infants!

DON’T Offer your child anything in a coin shape. Things cut in this shape are a major choking hazard.

What to do if…

My child simply throws/pushes everything on the floor – There can be many reasons why your child might throw their food on the floor. Your child may not be ready yet. If they are not interested in the food take a break and try again in a couple weeks.

They may also be overwhelmed by the options or amount of food, try giving them smaller amounts. If they eat a bit and then throw it on the floor it may be their way of telling you they are done. Try teaching them to sign all done and clear their plate if they seem finished.

Also, it could just be them testing gravity. They like to see what happens if they drop it over the side. Throwing their food is a common behavior that they will eventually outgrow. Getting upset with them could either turn it into a game or make them fearful of meal time. I recommend rolling with it and limiting the amount of food on their tray to reduce the mess.

My child doesn’t seem to like something – Every taste and texture is going to be new for your baby. My daughter will sometimes spit something out a couple times at the beginning of a meal and then decide she does like it and eat. They are tasting and learning.

It’s recommended you offer a food a minimum of three times before determining that your child doesn’t like it. They may just not be in the mood for it today, just like you might not be in the mood for certain foods on certain days.

We’re going out to eat – If it’s very early days you may want to just skip that meal for your baby. As they get more used to eating solids when you eat either bring some snack for them or order something simple like a sweet potato, regular potato, or mashed potatoes. I live in Southern California where avocado is basically it’s own food group so we would frequently order her some sliced avocado to eat at restaurants.

My child seems to be getting constipated from solids – Constipation can be an issue, especially at the beginning as your babies system adapts to solid food. Start with one meal a day and work up to more to help their system adjust.

If they start getting backed up you can reduce how often they are getting solids. Ensure they are being offered water in a sippy cup, the munchkin 360 cup is my personal favorite. You can also offer them a probiotic, yogurt, or some prune baby food. You can also mix the prunes in with applesauce or yogurt or serve it by itself.

Yes, that would mean you are technically giving a puree, but it definitely helps. A little goes a long way with the prunes, my husband once fed my daughter half a jar of prunes…it resulted in quite the mess.

My child develops a rash – Make sure you are keeping track of what you are feeding them early on in case of any allergic reactions. A rash could indicate an allergy. Talk to your doctor so they can have them tested for allergies if need be.

Acidic foods can also contribute to a diaper rash so you may want to limit the amount of red sauce and acidic fruit you feed your child if they are prone to getting diaper rashes. If there is any family history of food allergies you will want to talk to your doctor about when to introduce these foods!

Want a month’s worth of awesome meal ideas? Check out the Baby Led Weaning family meal plan from my friend Dana Simpkins.

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